On February 28th, 2011 thousands of engine drivers organized under the banner of All India Loco Running Staff Association(AILRSA), marched from Ambedkar Bhawan to Parliament to protest against the callous refusal of the Railway Ministry to address their long standing grievances.
The Regional Labour Commissioner, New Delhi had on October 11th 2011 declared conciliation talks between the engine drivers and the Railway Board as failed. He had passed severe strictures on the Railway Board for its uncooperative attitude. As per the law, after a failure, a National Tribunal had to be constituted within 45 days. The Union labor Minister had assured the drivers that this would be done. But even after 4 months a Tribunal has not been constituted. The engine drivers have seen from their own bitter experience that time and again, the management and the government have gone back on their promises.
The engine drivers came from all across the country, from all the divisions of the Indian Railways. These workers had braved the threats of disciplinary action from the management to participate in the rally and their angry mood was evident through out the day long demonstration.
A Presidium, consisting of the General Secretary, President and National Vice Presidents of AILRSA, past Presidents and advisors to AILRSA, conducted the Public Meeting. As a special invitee, a representative of Lok Raj Sangathan was also welcomed on stage.
At 11.00 AM the meeting was declared open by AILRSA General Secretary Comrade M.N.Prasad. He tore apart the proposals for new trains proposed by the rail minister in the new budget. New trains are announced, but there are no new rakes; nor are new drivers being hired. What will happen is that the same rakes will be sent in different directions without proper maintenance. What will happen is the work load of drivers will be increased. This will directly lead to increased accidents. This is what has happened in the past, and the railway authorities and ministry simply do not want to address the issues of safety.
He pointed out that the Rail Minister had announced the opening of many new corridors as well as new schemes. There is no money for these schemes with the railways, and it is preparing to invite private capitalists in PPP projects. This means privatization of the railways as well as increased exploitation of the workers.
He pointed out that railways had instituted 5 committees to look into the problems of the railway workers, but there has been no improvement in their conditions.
He said the Railway Drivers had shown in 1974, 1981 how they could cripple the railways and if pressed they would be forced to do the same again. He called on the workers to be ready to fight and to be strong. He said we are not fighting for Rs 1,000. We are fighting for our honor. We have been patient, but this patience must not be seen as a sign of weakness.
He said the Railway Minster had in her last budget in 2010 promised to build 1000 km of new tracks. But there are no sign of these tracks. Successive governments have paid very little attention to building new tracks. In 1947 there was 53,000 km of railway track in India. After 63 years, there has been an addition of only 10,000 km of tracks. As a result, vast sections of our people were deprived of the benefit of railways even today.
He hailed the developing united struggle of the workers all across the country, as reflected in the All India march to parliament on February 23, 2011. The concerns of the workers of the country and those of engine drivers were the same.
The representative of Lok Raj Sangathan saluted the brave engine drivers who had overcome all hardships to come to Delhi. He reminded the workers that a few days ago on February 23rd, lakhs of workers had come here from all over India. This showed the mood of the working class that they wanted change. They came here expecting something; however they had to go back disappointed. He pointed out that it was not the workers and peasants who were in power in our country, but the biggest capitalist houses. The motive of the economy was not well being of the producers of wealth, but maximum private profit. Loot of the human labour power is the basis of the entire system, and to protest this loot, the entire state machinery is deployed. Whichever party or coalition has come to power in the past two decades has pursued the program of globalization through privatization and liberalization. He said that Manmohan Singh Government is neither interested nor capable of addressing the problems of unemployment, rising prices, illiteracy and malnutrition. It is the workers, peasants and other exploited and oppressed who would have to address these problems, by taking political power into their own hands. The time has come for the working class of India to organize to end this exploitative man eating system. He called on the Railway workers of India, and among them the Engine Drivers of India to play a vanguard role in this historic mission of the working class.
Throughout the day the rally was addressed by many representatives of the engine drivers from different parts of the country. The mood of the workers was eloquently described by one of the representatives who said that after the uprising of 1857, it took 90 years to throw out the British. Now after 60 years, we need to get prepared to throw out the present anti worker rulers.
A delegation submitted the demands of the engine drivers to the railway ministry. The rally denounced the attitude of the Railway Minister who had no time to meet the workers. They declared that they would launch a nation wide agitation which could cripple the railways, if their demands were not addressed seriously. The rally concluded at 5 PM with the address of Comrade L Mony, President of AILRSA who called on the drivers to get prepared for serious struggle.
Demands of locomen
- Increase in grade pay for Assistant Loco Pilots: currently, the Assistant Loco Pilot, at entry level, gets a Grade Pay of just Rs 1,900 per month.
- Differential Grade Pay as per duty: currently, loco pilots of goods, mail as well as Rajdhani can be on the same grade. The loco pilots are demanding differentiated grades reflecting increased responsibility.
- Revision of running allowance should be implemented as per the existing formula. The VIth Pay Commission introduced a new formula while revising the rates of kilometer allowance for loco pilots. This lowered the running allowance.
- A maximum of 10 hours between signing ON and signing OFF: currently they have to work between 14-18 hours.
- Filling up of vacancies: there are over 10,000 posts vacant. The total strength of drivers is 54,000, whereas it should be 65,000. This increases the load on the drivers and is a threat to safety.